@ ABC Upfront: Kimmel: ‘ABC Is The Worst Date Ever’; Research Take Center Stage

I’m seated in a makeshift press room on the second floor of ABC’s corporate headquarters, as the audience of marketers and media buyers gather a few blocks away at Avery Fisher Hall for the company’s upfront presentation. The Disney-owned network, like MTV did at its upfront last week, is touting its research skills. The Media Networks division and Disney (NYSE: DIS) are developing an “emerging media and advertising research lab” complete with its own facility in Austin, Tx. The lab will use “biometric measurement tools” designed to judge viewers’ engagement.

Smaller is bigger – somehow: Anne Sweeney, president, Disney-ABC Television Group, took the stage to acknowledge that this year’s event is paradoxically “smaller, slightly changed, yet in a way, bigger than ever.” As for the emerging media lab, Sweeney said: “We expect to test new ad models and we expect to learn a lot.” She then addressed TV’s challenges from digital and from the writers’ strike. “But TV is the most powerful ways to meet consumers. This may be a scaled down presentation, but we still have Jimmy Kimmel. He really gets around. Over the past few months, he’s been on YouTube and lately he’s been on Ben Affleck.”

The worst date ever: Kimmel: “I’m not sure — is this the writers strike after-party or the pre-strike SAG party? We’ve scaled back, there’s no bar, no food. Don’t get mad at us for not having a party like NBC. They need a drink over there.” In a nod to the paucity of new programming next season compared to past years, Kimmel said: “We’re excited about both our new shows.”

More after the jump

DVRs and ABC: Mike Shaw, head of ad sales, tried to make a pitch for the DVR as not such a bad thing for network TV and advertising. Shaw: “About 23 percent of all households have DVRs. The highest rated shows live and recorded are on ABC. Most people watch recorded shows within three days and we have higher ratings for our recorded shows than other networks have for non-DVR viewing. So much for the death of the business at the hands of the DVR.” Heads were seen shaking in the audience.

A VOD plea: Shaw continues, offering to create special ad initiatives for its syndicated online content. He also pleaded with advertisers to join it in making VOD more ad-friendly. “Our content is going to be available on an anywhere anytime basis. We have grown a new business with our full episode player. Ads cannot be skipped. We’re also working on VOD with fast forward disabled. This is something the entire industry needs to get behind. Also, we want you to tell Nielsen to measure VOD appropriately.” And with that, Steve McPherson took the stage with more apologies for the lack of “bells, whistles, dancing and sorry there’s no bar.”

Less programming: There’s actually an upside about not introducing a whole new programming slate for the fall, McPherson said. “We don’t have a single night we have to build from scratch.” That said, the new fall schedule isn’t just filled with returning shows like Ugly Betty and Lost. There is a new game show called Opportunity Knocks, produced by Ashton Kutcher, that will air Tuesday nights. The game show comes to viewers homes and asks family members to answer personal questions about their parents, children and friends. Another show combines time travel and 70s style cop drama with Life On Mars (“The rules are old school… in a world turned upside down”). McPherson did point out that ABC has ordered 20 pilots, “more than any other network,” he claimed. There’s also a new animated comedy by Mike Judge (King of The Hill) called The Goode Family about a hyperbolically politically correct family. For the summer, the network has I Survived A Japanese Game Show (“Duck before a Komodo Dragon eats your face!”)